Saffer has completed his three year term as Director Marketing BMW India. Frank
Schloeder is his successor
Description: BMW India is a subsidiary of the BMW Group. The company is
headquartered in Gurgaon near New Delhi. BMW India also has its own
manufacturing facility in Chennai with a capacity to manufacture 11,000 units
per annum on a double shift. The Chennai plant produces the BMW 3 Series, the 5
Series, the 7 Series, the X1, the X3 and the MINI Countryman. The latest
addition to this portfolio is the BMW 1 Series launched early October 2013. The
company also imports several other models through the CBU route.
Christian, how has your experience
been in India from the time you first came from Germany three years ago?
Being in India has been a special
experience for me. I am a person who is able to adapt to a new culture very
easily. I remember the first day I arrived here. It was not at all a culture
shock for me. People I had talked to had described India as a tough place to
work in, but for me it was not like that. Of course, it was a challenge. India
is a completely different story compared to any other European, US or Japanese
markets. I have survived and it’s been full three years that I have lived here
and now I shall be going to BMW headquarters in Germany. My three years are
over and I shall be ready to take on a new opportunity. But before that I shall
be travelling within India. This proves that I have adapted to this country and
its culture. I have had some very interesting and valuable experience here in
Do you expect the 1 Series car to be
a game changer of sorts here in India?
Let’s see what the future brings. I
am totally convinced about the product. I think Philipp (Philipp von Sahr,
President of BMW India) also pointed out during his speech (at the launch of 1
Series in Mumbai) that it’s the best car when it comes to dynamism, efficiency
and sportiness. And that is why the expectations are high. At the end of the
day, of course, the customer decides but it’s for sure that the 1 series is a
great car and we expect a lot out of this launch.
The 1 Series is the most affordable
car in your portfolio as its stands today. Are there going to be more surprises
down the line in terms of your pricing?
To be very honest you never know. At
the moment you are right, the 1 Series is the least expensive car in our
portfolio starting at 20.9 lakh. The cars here in India are relatively
expensive compared to European markets as a result of import duties etc. Of
course, I foresee cheaper prices in future. I cannot tell you when but if the
government brings down taxes and other import duties, then we can definitely
offer the cars at a cheaper price. We also never compromise on our quality or
technology. We are a luxury manufacturer so people have certain expectations
from our products and we never compromise on quality, technology and styling.
Unlike your competitors, you have
been majorly selling rear-wheel drive cars that are run on automatic transmissions.
Don’t you think you need to make your cars tailor-made for Asian markets which
look for front wheel-drive cars running on a manual transmission?
Our success in the last few years
shows very clearly that we have arrived. Ours is a very aspirational brand.
People who buy our cars may not be really thinking about whether it is a rear
wheel drive or a front wheel drive vehicle. There are many attributes to our
cars. Our cars offer sheer driving pleasure, sportiness, dynamism, styling,
technology etc. Not everyone may know about the rear wheel drive, but once you
drive a BMW car and you experience what the difference is between a rear wheel
drive and a front wheel drive car, then people simply love it. Then they
understand why we so strongly believe in rear wheel drive cars.
Frank, is this your first posting to
India? Is this your first time in India too?
I have already been in India twice.
This is my first assignment in India. I am here for the next three years. When
you speak in Europe about going to India, you get many different opinions. You
have the big fans of India telling you “Lucky you” and telling you that India
is the best country to go to. Then you have people who tell you that they are
frightened to go to India. But these are the people who do not know India well
and have never been here. All I can say is that when you arrive in India, you
are welcomed so warmly. It’s a fantastic country with such a rich culture. I am
now happy to take on this new challenge here in India.
Christian you have been in India for
three years heading the marketing division of BMW India. What have you to tell
your successor Frank of the diversity of this country, it culture and its
Yes, I agree, India is a very
diverse country when it comes to languages and people. I even find a huge
difference between two cities like Delhi and Mumbai when it comes to people. To
be successful in a country like India, you need to adapt to its culture. I
still ask a lot of questions in my pursuit to understand this country better.
Also, when it comes to our customers, they are very demanding, and rightly so.
If you can afford a car like the BMW, you can be very demanding.
What kind of people forms your
customer base? Are they simply rich or more than that?
It’s much more than that. Of course
the nouveau rich remain the target audience of BMW, that is very clear, but
there are others too. Just recently, a friend of mine bought his first BMW.
This person is around 55 plus in age. He has been working hard his entire life.
And now he is kind of rewarding himself at the end of his professional career,
with a new BMW. I will not put him in the list of nouveau rich or a born rich
category. He worked hard his entire life and at the end of his professional
career it is time to reward himself. This is also a very import part of our
clientele. Yes, we have a lot of rich kids i.e. kids of rich fathers buying our
cars. But you also have successful businessmen, self employed people,
professionals, etc as part of our clientele. They may be rich but I would not
say they are multi millionaires. Thus, our buyers come from diverse
A lot of car makers in India adopt
different methods to sell their cars in the country. Does BMW also have such a
policy to sell its cars, especially in areas beyond the tier I cities?
BMW follows one common strategy for
marketing its products. We communicate only in English. We feel 99pc of our
target audience understands English. We feel that we need not have to adapt to
the rural areas in any different manner. BMW is a German company and we have a
clear strategy when it comes to entering a market. Everybody knows BMW. In
every country we communicate in a similar way. Our customers worldwide
understand the language of BMW.
BMW car fans have been quite obsessed
with design philosophy of your ex-design Chief Chris Bangle, who is renowned
for coming up with kidney- shaped grille cars. But now a new design chief is
slowly shifting away those trademark kidney- shaped grille cars to a slightly
altered design. Don’t you think it’s a risky proposition? Or is it part of an
It’s part of an evolution. If you
look at the design of our cars for the last 30 to 40 years, it was always some
evolution and some revolution. It’s just a process of design change because
people are changing. Every day you are observing something new. In the last 10
years I too have changed in my views and tastes. That is the reason why our
company too has to change with the changes happening with our target audience.
Sometimes you need an evolution and sometimes a revolution.
Christian, how will you sum up your
stint in India?
It was a challenge definitely. I
learnt a lot. I think I learnt much more in the last three years in India than
I learnt in 10 years in Europe. I met a lot of lovely people, very emotional
people. I made many friends here in India. It’s been a very memorable
experience I have had in India. I shall always cherish all the great moments I
have had in India for the last three years.
Frank, what are the challenges that
you are likely to face in your new job here?
In the beginning I have to learn a
lot. I have to know a lot more about the Indian culture. I have to also learn
about things that work here and things that do not work here. At the moment,
the Indian market is experiencing difficult times. We have to see whether this
is just a temporary issue or whether the market will continue to experience
this for a long period. Based on this we shall have to adapt our strategies and
come out with the right measures. But in the beginning, I have to learn, learn
and learn! The key to marketing is to listen to the customer. Its only then can
you provide the right solution to him. Before coming to India, I bought a lot
of books on India and I am still reading them. The only thing I can say at this
moment is that India is moving in the right direction and in the long run it
will continue to do well. I am happy to take over a well established team with
great talent here in BMW India. I have to build up on what has already been
achieved here in India by BMW.